Tories set to make millions from members’ data with ‘True Blue’ app

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Senior Conservative party officials have been working on plans to hand over its entire membership database to a commercial venture which promises to make thousands of pounds, the Guardian can reveal.

Leaked documents show Tory executives discussed using members’ personal data to build a mobile phone app that could track users’ locations and allow big brands to advertise to Conservative supporters. The party would cut back on sales.

The project was evaluated over several months last year, with the aim of launching a “True Blue” app in time for the party’s conference in October.

The boss of a cryptocurrency firm developed the idea with a series of failed businesses behind it. But senior Conservative officials appeared to be so impressed with the plan that they prepared to supply a database of party members to push the proposal forward.

The True Blue project aimed to give the party direct access to its members to “increase donations” through digital payments, design “command messages” based on demographics, and “maximize” voter turnout by directing members to polling stations and polling issue. voter ID card.

However, it is the proposed commercialization of members’ data that worries some party supporters. An illustrated document – illustrated with pictures of Rishi Sunak – outlined a plan whereby brands such as Amazon and Coca-Cola could advertise to party members. The presentation suggested that the app would allow companies to “geo-market” products based on a user’s location, with the party taking a share of any resulting sales.

A Conservative spokesman said the app had not “proceeded beyond the pitch stage”. But emails seen by the Guardian show officials worked through last summer on the project, adapting the content of the proposed app and requesting paperwork, including a draft contract.

Cori Crider, a lawyer who runs Foxglove, a not-for-profit group campaigning for fairness in the tech sector, said: “It’s quite sad, really, to see the Conservative party treating their own brand and their membership as a failed asset in their raid and withdraw cash as if they were some kind of vulture fund.”

‘The SuperApp’

The proposal for the app came from Christen Ager-Hanssen, a Norwegian businessman who said that “big data is the new oil”. He came to prominence in the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s before going into business. More business adventures followed, including the collapse of Swedish newspaper Metro and a failed bid for UK media group Johnston Press.

On June 29 last year, Ager-Hanssen had the pleasure of “talking to” Rishi Sunak, according to his post on X. That was the day of the summer party, one of the Tories’ big annual fundraising bashes. The same day, Ager-Hanssen emailed Tory chief executive Stephen Massey with the subject: “The SuperApp for the Conservative Party.”

The party swung into action. Ager-Hanssen was invited to meet with the chief data officer, director of branding and head of digital to discuss the idea.

Two weeks later, Aimee Henderson, the Conservatives’ chief operating officer, emailed Ager-Hanssen, telling him she had reported back to Massey that “our meeting this morning was a great success”.

She asked him to incorporate existing Tory membership tiers – “Disraeli Club” and “Churchill Club”, up to “Thatcher Club” – into the proposed app. On July 22, less than a month after first approaching the party, Ager-Hanssen told Henderson: “I’ve finished the latest version of the app based on your input.”

An accompanying presentation outlined a proposal, including ways for users to easily donate to the party. But he suggested that the real moneymaker would come from the commission that big brands would pay the party on sales to True Blue users. Profits were to be split, with 25% going to Ager-Hanssen’s company, Addreax, and the rest going to the Conservative party.

The presentation suggested that Addreax already had partnerships with brands such as Amazon, Coca-Cola and Apple. When contacted by the Guardian, none of these companies confirmed any relationship with Addreax or involvement in the True Blue project.

Using the presentation’s figures labeled as “for illustrative purposes only”, the party’s share of revenue could reach an estimated £160m per year, he claimed. This appears to be a very ambitious goal: the required 1.25 million users is more than seven times the party’s membership of 172,000. But even a fraction of this projection would add to the £47m the Tories raised in donations last year.

The project also proposed to provide a voter ID card to the users of the app. Civil liberties campaigners have said rules introduced in 2022 requiring voters to provide government-issued identification, such as passports and driving licences, at polling stations risk disenfranchising marginalized groups. Any change that would benefit Tory members is likely to be controversial.

‘Next iteration’

“The revisions and additions look great,” Henderson responded, a day after receiving the award. She hoped for a “conference launch date”, saying she would show the plan to party directors: “I doubt this will create a lot of excitement!”

An unsigned draft contract seen by the Guardian says the Conservatives would provide Addreax with access to “its database of prospective and current members”.

Work on the project continued throughout the summer. On August 22, Henderson sent an email to Ager-Hanssen, copying in the marketing, commercial and voter communications project heads. Party officials, she said, had been “working … on branding and membership since our last meeting”, and she was looking forward to “the next iteration of the product soon”.

Henderson added that to get approval from the board, “we urgently need” drafts of a data sharing agreement and other documents.

The Conservatives refused to say why the True Blue app was not launched. At the end of September, Ager-Hanssen was fired as the chief executive of the cryptocurrency company that he apparently told that the Tories would have a role in the app.

The Guardian has seen no evidence of further True Blue discussions after this date. The Conservatives declined to answer questions about Ager-Hanssen’s business record.

Neither Ager-Hanssen nor Addreax responded to requests for comment.


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